It’s rough out there for restaurants. COVID surges, staffing challenges, unpredictable food costs and shortages and it’s now officialIy winter. But there are ways to help . . .
I am in the process of creating a list of restaurants from my dining guide that are offering outdoor dining or will soon. I will share it on my Instagram, so please be sure you are following me there. Please keep in mind that the list will change often and will be updated as I receive direct confirmation from the restaurants about their setups.
Here are a few standout memories from outdoor dining and takeout from this year. Also, can we please give a shout out to to-go cocktails? Lots more dinners and takeout and on my Instagram. Be sure to check out the Outdoor Dining and COVID Takeout highlights at the top of my account page.
1 – Laotian fried chicken from Mona’s Super Noodle
2 – Dry rose (often my dessert of choice) at Cosima
3 – Nachos outside at Sobo Market
5 – Martinis in pouches (a.k.a. the greatest thing ever) from The Prime Rib
Please also remember, too, that all of the changing and adapting restaurants are doing over and over is not only exhausting, it’s also very, very expensive. Right now is not the time to ask about happy hour specials or why your meal might be more expensive than usual. If the service is slow or uneven, be extra patient.
If you plan to go out to eat and the place you’re going takes reservations, make one. And keep it. If your plans change, let the restaurant know. This will help the restaurant plan and adapt.
And, of course, tip as much as you possibly can.
If you’re wondering why the bar at your favorite restaurant (often the best seat for dinner) is not open or why they’re not offering outdoor seating, it’s likely because they don’t have enough people to execute service the way they’d like. I’ve spoken with several owners and managers about this. It’s on their minds — a lot.
Then there’s the outdoor seating thing. It is incredibly challenging. Why? Staffing, weather and availability of heaters, etc. Because of the uncertainty of the weather, restaurants cannot guarantee that outdoor reservations can be offered or honored. Last minute changes happen constantly and that takes a toll on the restaurant’s ability to accommodate their guests. The whole thing makes my head spin thinking about all of the planning and pivoting (yes that word again . . .), the costs, the actual physical work and the physical exhaustion. And then there’s the mental exhaustion and feelings of frustration and helplessness. They are real. And the cumulative effects of working in the restaurant industry during COVID are now incredibly heavy. It feels endless.
As for heaters and safety, if you have a covered structure (like a tent or awning), you cannot have heaters on directly underneath it. It’s dangerous. (It’s technically not allowed.) Often you will see heaters positioned in between tables and no tent. So, yes, weather adds another level of daily stress for the restaurants that are offering outdoor dining. When it rains, the restaurant has to scramble — and if you had planned to sit outside, you’re likely out of luck. No one is happy in this situation. (This would be the perfect time to get takeout!) All of this said, outdoor dining is simply not a realistic option for a lot of restaurants.
One more important thing to note: even if you have heaters next to your table, you may not be as warm as you’d like and should bring a blanket, an extra layer or two. Last winter, I always had a hat, gloves and a warm scarf in my bag, ready for an extra cold night outside. Keep a warm blanket or two in your car — you never know when you’ll need it!
Also, keep in mind that some places have just a couple of tables outside on their sidewalk, while others have parklets, tents, sail cloth, etc. I recommend calling ahead or looking up your favorite restaurants on Instagram to see if they have photos. Remember to search by location in IG, too. Then, you will likely see more photos posted by the restaurants’ guests.
If you are not comfortable dining indoors right now and your favorite places are aren’t offering outdoor seating, remember to always consider ordering takeout and also buying gift cards to use later. And, give them a rave review on Google — it’s very quick and easy! Here are the steps to create a Google review and here are some helpful tips.
- On your phone or tablet, open the Google Maps app.
- Search for a place or tap it on the map. …
- At the bottom, tap the place’s name or address.
- At the top, tap Reviews.
- Scroll to the 5 empty stars.
- Create your review (see tips link above!)
Remember that you can Venmo your favorite servers, managers, bartenders, etc. Just message them to ask for their Venmo account name. I have done this a few times and man, oh, man . . . it feels good!
I’ve heard this question a lot: Will my takeout order save them? Who knows for sure. I will say that your financial support via regular takeout orders will help both financially and emotionally. Place your orders via the restaurant directly…go old school and call them. (Please do not DM them on Instagram.) Hearing directly from someone in the neighborhood, a regular, even someone who hasn’t had the chance to visit yet because of the pandemic . . . it ALL helps. And share your order on your social media. It can be a photo of the restaurant’s facade as you pull up to grab your order or the bag of food or anything you want. It doesn’t have to be a beautifully styled food photo. There are enough of those out there. Show your support. That is key to restaurants’ survival.
And similar to when you snap a photo when you pick up takeout…if you go out to a restaurant and have dinner outside, PLEASE take a photo or two. Then, share your photos on your social media and also text them to friends, family, colleagues, neighbors about your outdoor dining adventures! Share with your neighborhood association. Again, nothing fancy required . . . if people to actually SEE the setup, they are more likely to book a night out at that restaurant. Not everyone feels comfortable going without knowing what the setup is actually like. Me, included.
Thank you for supporting your favorite local restaurants. Be safe!